Sunday, February 1, 2009

April Is the Cruelest Month for the LPGA in '09...but for '10?

Now that the dust has settled from last week's disturbing news that Ginn is ending their sponsorship of both their LPGA and Champions Tour events, it's clear that the Ginn Open is gone and the LPGA's April is looking mighty thin. If it weren't for their events in Asia and Mexico this winter and early spring, the LPGA would have one tournament each in February, March, and April--assuming they are able to line up a course in Phoenix to host their late-March event.

If I were Commissioner, here's what I'd be doing right now to shore up the LPGA's spotty spring for 2010. First, I'd open up talks with the heads of the KLPGA, JLPGA, LET, and ALPG to explore the possibility of some serious co-sponsorship in winter and early spring '10. I'm talking setting up an extended Asian-Pacific Swing to start off the LPGA season, like so:

January: kick off the 2010 women's professional golf season with a bang at the HSBC Women's World Match Play in Rio (top 64 Rolex Rankings, co-sponsored by LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET), then fly the LPGA's best back to Florida for the revived ADT--yes, ADT--Championship.

February: join the LET and ALPG in co-sponsoring the two big Australian events, then offer the JLPGA co-sponsorship of the LPGA's Thailand event and craft a similar deal with the KLPGA and a Korean transnational to flesh out the shortest month of the year.

March: end the Asian swing with the HSBC Women's Champions event, then move the SBS Open after it to bring the tour back to the States (and provide a kickoff for those who couldn't get into the previous events or who didn't want to travel to Asia), before heading to Mexico for 2 weeks for the MasterCard Classic and Corona Championship (the latter moved up from April).

April: make the Phoenix event the last tune-up before the the year's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which closes out the Asian-Pacific Swing and comes the week after the Masters to capitalize on media coverage. Then build in a 2-week break before kicking off the Eastern Swing, hopefully with an event in May to precede the Michelob Ultra.

That's 12 LPGA events to kick off the 2010 season, 4 of them in the States. Unlike the fall Asian-Pacific Swing, this one would consist mostly of full-field events with cuts. Setting up the schedule this way would keep the mid-level pros on the LPGA happy and competitive, as spots would open up for those lower down the money list and world rankings when some of the top players decide to limit their early-season jet-setting. But there are still 4 major-quality events in the swing and a few others that might come to rival the Phoenix event in prestige, assuming the best off the LPGA decide to play golf in Australia and southeast Asia in February. Moreover, all the major women's tours would expand their lineups and save money (by pooling their resources), while the golfy media would find it easier to focus on women's golf (as many of the top PGA golfers play quite limited winter schedules).

My next move would be to do whatever it takes to beef up the LPGA's May-July stateside schedule and end their strange tradition of a summer vacation in August. If that means crawling back to ShopRite on hands and knees, so be it. If that means starting up some new events with only a $1M purse and a reduced fee to the tournament organizers, so be it. The LPGA needs to face reality and offer discount, basic, and premium tiers to locations and sponsors willing to take a bet on Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, and the other LPGAers who are off the national radar compared to them. Better to have relatively few breaks between May and October, particularly if it means moving into markets with relatively large populations of Asian and Latino heritage, than to hold the line on a pre-financial crisis strategic plan. When the worldwide economy recovers, the tour and its members will be well-positioned for massive growth.

Finally, I'd lay the groundwork for that kind of growth by immediately pursuing a full-spectrum new media strategy--not just as a back-up plan in case the 2010-2015 network tv contract turns out to be a flop (I still owe everyone a post explaining my odd optimism on this), but, and more important, as an effort to reach and hook new fans, ages 5 and up, by getting them interested in a wide range of LPGA players. Hound Dog is on the right track here, but I'd go further. Start by choosing 1 hole per weekend round and connecting a live cam to the web all day on it, following 1 pairing around per round in live streaming video, providing longer post-round highlights than you can get on Golf Channel directly on, and turning each player page into a portal for interaction as well as information (with links to an FAQ [frequently asked questions] page, a form for asking questions of them, their blog, Facebook page, archived interviews, profiles, and features in the media and blogosphere [not that hard to do, what with rss and all these days], not to mention lots and lots of photos and videos, for each player). I've heard a lot about making a must-see site, but seen little effective action so far. That needs to change.

A related move consists of developing different tactics for different target markets who haven't yet moved to the LPGA in large enough numbers and restructuring to include cute stuff for girls, reality-tv stuff for teenagers and young adults, fashion stuff for single women, hot stuff for single guys, family stuff for the rest of us, and funny stuff for everyone (more of Christina Kim, Jane Park, Minea Blomqvist, and other great interviews). Yeah, that's stereotypical, but the list can be expanded and fine-tuned. The key is to use each target marketing tactic to tell part of the main story and contribute to the central strategy: the LPGA is both a truly global tour and the face of a new America. That means celebrating the tour's diversity and no longer betting the farm on the appeal of a handful of mostly blonde American stars. That means giving people a chance to confront and rethink their stereotypes about the tour and its players. That means creating an LPGA blog and assembling the tour's best writer-players to join Lisa Mickey in getting different kinds of stories out, dialoging with good commenters, engaging the best bloggers on women's golf, and influencing the golfy media.

The key in all this is giving a wide range of people from around the world both reason to check out the LPGA and a variety of ways to go from being a casual checker-inner to becoming a committed fan. You build a committed online fan base and that translates to better attendance, better participation in pro-ams, better ratings, better coverage, and (eventually) better sponsorships, tv deals, and overall revenues. If Barack Obama was the first Presidential candidate to really get the possibilities of new media, why shouldn't the LPGA aim to become the first professional golf tour to replicate his success?

I would love to see the LPGA striving to break the 35-event barrier in 2010 for the first time since 2001 (rather than scrambling to avoid breaking 30 in the other direction) and laying the groundwork for the best decade in their history. They certainly have the young talent already on tour and on their way to provide compelling competition as the Ochoa Era enters its post-Sorenstam phase. Now they need to figure out how to provide them more and better venues and more and better-informed coverage.


golf gloves said...

Indeed it is sad to know that Ginn will end their sponsorship of LPGA tournament especially for a golf lover like me. But that does not mean the tournament will not be held in April.

The Constructivist said...

Good point, but Ginn left the LPGA with very little time to get another sponsor. Will they decide to put their own money into running the tournament as they're already doing in Phoenix? I'd love to see it, but I'm not holding my breath.